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Senate Reviews Obama’s Climate Action Plan

Posted By Philip Santiago, Association of Climate Change Officers, Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing Thursday, January 16, 2014 to review the President’s Climate Action Plan (CAP), the series of climate-focused Executive Orders that Obama announced in his speech at Georgetown University in June 2013.  The hearing included testimony from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, White House CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley, GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini, and Fish and Wildlife Service Director Daniel Ashe.  Panelists fielded questions ranging from basic climate science to impacts of climate change and policy actions involved in the CAP.   

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the EPW Committee, began the hearing saying that "Climate change is a catastrophe that is unfolding before our very eyes,” and praising the move by the Obama administration for taking solid steps forward on the issue.  "It’s a moral obligation, it’s good for the economy, and it’s good for human health,” she added.  Democratic Senators including Boxer, Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Tom Carper (D-DE) made arguments in support of the President’s CAP and climate action in general.  Freshman Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) gave an impassioned speech focusing on social inequality and climate impacts on NJ cities and the poor.  Noting that polluting companies are not yet required to pay for the externalized climate costs of their businesses, Booker remarked "This idea of privatizing profits and socializing costs has got to stop.”  Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) spoke with urgency as well, noting the irrefutability of climate impacts his constituents are already seeing in Rhode Island.  "Our sea levels are rising, you measure that with a yardstick.  Our temperatures are rising, you measure that with a thermometer.”  

The hearing also contained much of the theatrics typical of bipartisan climate debate in Washington.  Republican Senators ran through standard predictions of economic gloom and doom, job losses and energy price increases.  These claims run counter to a 2011 report from the Office of Management and Budget demonstrating that every dollar spent on Clean Air Act compliance yields on average $4-8 in benefits.  Senator Boxer pointed out in response that many major corporations have expressed support for the CAP (including Nike, Symantec, Intel, Unilever, and Starbucks) and many view climate change as a substantial business opportunity rather than a financial burden.  Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was frequently combative — at one point yelling at Administrator McCarthy — particularly after Senator Whitehouse indicated that Sessions had cherry-picked his data in his attempt to deny that global temperatures are rising.  Sessions made claims that under the new proposed rules "the EPA can go into Americans’ backyards, get rid of their barbecue, and eliminate their lawnmower.”  Senators Sessions, John Barrasso (R-WY), and James Inhoffe (R-OK) also accused the EPA of "collusion with extremist environmental groups” to solicit positive comments on the proposed new rules to regulate emissions of new coal-fired power plants.   

A separate and much more sparsely attended afternoon panel included Bill Ritter, Director of the Center for the New Economy at Colorado State University and former Governor of Colorado, Dr. Dan Lashof, Climate and Clean Air Program Director at the National Resources Defense Council, and Dr. Andrew Dessler, Professor of Atmospheric Science at Texas A&M.  Senate minority invitees included Dr. Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Kathleen Hartnett White, Director of the Armstrong Center for Energy and the Environment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank with funding ties to Koch Industries.  

In his closing remarks, Senator Whitehouse said "I urge you all to keep faith with reality, truth, and science.  Armor yourselves against the slings and arrows of the deniers.”

Tags:  Climate Action Plan  Congressional Hearing 

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